People suffering with neuropathy (approximately 20 million Americans) are given very few options when it comes to effective treatment for the symptoms. Pharmaceuticals are a large part of standard care, and exercise, nutrition and footwear recommendations are sometimes given as well. Beyond those, many people suffering from neuropathy are told to try to come to terms with their chronic pain – there is no cure to neuropathy and most forms get progressively worse as time goes on.
However, acupuncture and integrative medicine offer a different perspective and approach to care. From an integrative medical perspective, the onset and progression of neuropathy are likely due to a number of different factors, so multiple interventions will be needed in order to change its course. Let’s look at what is happening in neuropathy and why there is an opportunity here for a much better treatment protocol.
Neuropathy is characterized by damage to the nervous system causing pain, numbness or other forms of nervous system disfunction. But the nervous system is not an island in your body. It affects and is intimately affected by every other bodily system.
Do you think nutrition and gut health play a role in how the nervous system functions? You better believe it! There is actually an entire system of nervous system tissue in the gut (the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)) that has far reaching affects on your mood, thought processes and overall health of your nervous system.
What about your cardiovascular health? Would it affect the nervous system? Yes again! Your nervous system, like every other cell in your body, relies on the constituents that are in your blood in order to function. If blood is not getting to the tissues that need it in order to survive and heal itself, how can we expect neuropathy symptoms to improve?
Because the body is a fully integrated system, a holistic perspective is needed in order to make a difference in someone with neuropathy symptoms. By the time someone has symptoms, they have multiple systems that need to be treated – focusing treatment on just the nervous system is not going to make a difference.
Acupuncture provides a very useful tool in helping the body’s systems communicate with each other. As an acupuncture needle is inserted, the nervous system is activated to release endorphins, resulting in pain reduction. Additionally, blood flow increases in response to an acupuncture needle allowing more oxygen and other nutrients to get to the tissues that need it.
In my patients with neuropathy, I highly recommend acupuncture in most cases. Depending on the patient, pharmaceuticals may continue to help, and I also tend to recommend exercises, nutrition changes, Chinese herbs and meditation as effective adjunct therapies. The important thing is to understand that a diagnosis of neuropathy is NOT the end of the story – you CAN do things to affect the health of your body, your nervous system and ultimately the rest of your life.